After building a reputation as the season lid-lifter, the Safeway Open takes a new spot in the schedule this season.
The field will reach 144 golfers once the Monday Qualifier is complete and the top 65 and ties will play the weekend.
The North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa will play host for the sixth straight year. It's a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design with Johnny Miller putting his fingerprint on it around 2011.
Golfers will be mixed with their strategy off the tee but a lot of the holes do lend themselves to hitting less-than-driver off the tee. It's a true shot-makers course in that regard. You need to work the ball both ways and leave your approaches in the right landing zones because the greens are heavily undulating and tricky.
Water comes into play on two of the par 3s on this par-72 layout that stretches out to 7,166 yards.
Despite golfers taking less club on some of the holes, the tree-lined fairways are still tough to find with the field averaging just 54% over the last five years. The good news is that the rough isn't too penal. Just flashback to last year when Phil Mickelson talked about how Le Golf National doesn't work him at this stage of his career. Silverado does the opposite because you can still find lots of greens from the rough.
The nature of the hole-by-hole yardage allows for a lot of wedges in hand. That leads to a lot of low rounds. The poa annua greens are so tricky that landing it close doesn't guarantee a low score but this is the type of course where one or two players typically flirt with 59. The course record is shared by Ricky Barnes and Chesson Hadley (61).
Similar to other West Coast events like the WM Phoenix Open, morning and afternoon conditions can often vary widely. Sometimes chilly mornings can prevent the ball from flying too far and give an edge to the afternoon wave. Of course, they have to deal with PM poa annua greens which usually cancels things out.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Kevin Streelman: "It was just really cold. The ball was not traveling this morning really until we made the turn did I feel like I hit my wedge over 125 yards. Same thing the guys had the day before, so there’s really big extremes on cold to hot. It’s supposed to be 90 this afternoon and it was sweater weather when we woke up. So just got to add a few clubs during the morning"
Sam Saunders: "this golf course fits my eye a lot better now being able to turn it over off the tee. Playing really aggressive off the tee. Hit a lot of drivers out there, gave myself some wedges, so I was able to attack some of those pins."
Martin Laird: "And with the course not being the longest golf course to play, there’s some tight pins on the front of the greens that some guys just can’t get to if you don’t hit it high. And you know, I hit it high. So coming in with mid irons, coming in landing soft is definitely a big advantage as opposed to maybe hitting a slightly longer club and coming in a little flatter."
Kevin Na: "It’s not a bomber’s course. You have to shape the ball, which I like doing. Short game is a big part of the game out here on this golf course."
Phil Mickelson: "I think a lot of guys struggle with the poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on. The color looks different, it’s hard to sometimes read. But when you’re used to it, I don’t know of much better surfaces than these right here."
Overview: Quotes are all over the place. Some like to pound drivers. Most like to lay back. Some cite the poa greens as being comfortable, others talk about ball flight or shot shaping.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo)
Torrey Pines (Farmers)
Augusta National (Masters)
TPC Scottsdale (WM Phoenix Open)
East Lake (TOUR Championship)
The theme of the week is tree-lined courses that force you to hit a lot of shots from the rough. Most of the courses on this list are not so penalizing from the rough with the exception probably being East Lake.
Thursday: Morning temps in the low 60s before reaching a high of 84 degrees. Winds around 9 MPH gusts to 15.
Friday: Partly sunny with a high of 75 degrees. Winds at 7 to 10 MPH.
I feel pretty confident in saying this will be a great weather week. Not threat of storms on the horizon, although rain is about 10 to 20% over the weekend. We can monitor the AM versus PM weather on each day as the event draws nearer.